Thursday, 18 September 2008

to apostrophe or not to apostrophe

A sign on a parked car caught my attention today - Dyson group of companies. I was sitting in the sunshine outside a vet clinic, having voted with my feet to enjoy the fresh air rather than be crammed into the busy waiting room.

A bus had broken down at the nearby stop and I enjoyed watching the consequent comings and goings.

Finally I noticed the bus had Dysons written on the front. Aha, that explained the man with the clipboard who'd climbed out of the car and gone to talk to the driver of the bus.

Why Dysons on the front of the bus? Why not Dyson?

Maybe a plurality of Dysons ran the bus company.

Or perhaps the word was a possessive; the bus was Dyson's property. If so, why was there no apostrophe?

In 1966 the Geographical Names Board of Australia decided placenames and street or road names in text, maps and public signs would be written without an apostrophe.

About twenty years ago the final act of a retiring principal at a local school was to climb a ladder and insert the apostrophe in the school's name - Pender's Grove Primary School. It's gone now (the apostrophe, not the school).

Sadly, he was twenty years too late to fight that battle of names, because the school was named after a place.

However, I still wondered about the Dysons question.

The official Australian Style manual says on page 86:
A possessive apostrophe is not necessary in the names of institutions, professional and industry bodies and other groups.
Perhaps the car had the clue after all; Dyson GROUP. Maybe they read their Style Guide and noted page 86.


Vincent said...

Back here in old England, Parlance, it's an old tradition to put the s on with no apostrophe in the case of shops, factories etc.

Woolworths, Boots, WH Smiths, Smiths Industries, Tescos (though that is usually Tesco) Morrisons, Wilkinsons. In each case the original surname which gave its name to the organization didn't have an s. Tesco was a made up name.

Your style guide is not wrong about the apostrophe. The issue here is "why the s?"

I think it goes like this. Dyson starts a factory and calls it Dyson. Everyone else calls it Dyson's because it is Dyson's factory. Josiah Boot starts a chain of "cash chemists" and everyone calls it Boot's. Then the company calls itself Boot's or Boots to reflect what everyone else calls it.

parlance said...

Vincent, your theory seems logical. I actually thought twice about whether to write 'vet's', 'vet' or 'vets' in the body of the post. I think it might be the same situation. What I think as I set out is, 'I'll go to the vet's (clinic).'